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Desperately Seeking Solace

10 Author-Chosen Books for Uncertain Times

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • April 29, 2020

For many of us, this is an unprecedented time. Our world has changed and it's a lot to digest. Many of us are struggling with anxiety and stress. We know that reading should help, but at the same time, it's harder than ever to focus. Maybe it's just a matter of getting ahold of the right book. So we've rounded up a list of reading recs from contemporary authors.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

A glorious, slender volume of vignettes telling the story of six-year-old Sophia and her grandmother spending the summer together on a tiny unspoiled island in the Gulf of Finland. In spare, crystalline prose, the novel deftly explores all that matters most in life. "On an island," thinks the grandmother, "everything is complete."

Recommended by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of City of Girls

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

A daring, smart, and deeply emotional novel about race, pop culture, immigration, and assimilation. Willis Wu is a bit player on a procedural cop show called Black and White, but he dreams of bigger things. After stumbling into the spotlight, Willis is launched into a wild journey that sets the myth-making machines of our culture on fire.

Recommended by Leigh Bardugo, author of Six of Crows

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

This epic, beautifully written masterwork chronicles one of the great, untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. "They did what human beings looking for freedom, throughout history, have often done. They left."

Recommended by Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A favorite with children and adults all over the world since it was first published in 1910! This is the story of two broken children who find healing as they work to bring a garden back to life. "'Is the spring coming?' he said. 'What is it like?' . . . 'It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine...'"

Recommended by Helen Hoang, author of The Kiss Quotient

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

This gripping Dickensian masterpiece offers everything needed to distract you from the grim news cycle: an arresting narrative voice, outrageous suspense, Victorian horrors, erotic thrills, complicated characters, mystifying plot twists, and even a hopeful ending.

Recommended by Madeline Miller, author of Circe

Golden Gates by Conor Dougherty

Perhaps your perfect diversion from our current situation will be found in this deeply reported investigation of America's housing crisis. With a focus on the San Francisco Bay Area, this beat-by-beat exposé peels back the layers of this complex issue with propulsive storytelling and on-the-ground reporting.

Recommended by Kevin Nguyen, author of New Waves

Persuasian by Jane Austen

Austen's last completed novel is a perfect example of her enduring power, mixing biting social criticism with the sweetness of hard-won love. Like so many of Austen's protagonists, Anne Elliot is intelligent, sensitive, and, ultimately, irresistible. As her beau tells her, "You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope . . . I have loved none but you."

Recommended by Garth Greenwell, author of Cleanness

News Of The World by Paulette Jiles

In the wake of the Civil War, an aging Captain agrees to take custody of a young orphan, newly rescued from her Kiowa captors, and deliver her to surviving relatives. As the unlikely pair travel across a perilous Texas landscape, they form one of the quirkiest, most satisfying friendships in modern literature.

Recommended by Erik Larson, author of The Splendid and the Vile

The Golden Apples by Eudora Welty

Welty is on familiar ground with this collection of seven linked stories, portraying the residents of a small Mississippi town. A review from The New Yorker says, "I doubt that a better book about 'the South'—one that more completely gets the feel of the particular texture of Southern life and its special tone and pattern—has ever been written."

Recommended by Anne Tyler, author of Redhead by the Side of the Road

Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf

This lovely slim novel sings with a timely resonance. An elderly widow drops in on her neighbor, a widower, whom she imagines is as lonely as she is herself. The visit sparks a connection that neither of them expected. "Who would have thought at this time in our lives that we'd still have something like this?"

Recommended by Lois Lowry, author of The Giver

The books recommended by these authors give us an excellent list to consider, but then, so do their own books! Hopefully you find something here that will serve as a good departure from your worries. Feel free to chime in and let us know if you have any comforting reads of your own to recommend.

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Read more by Ashly Moore Sheldon

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